On a roll with a hat-trick of victories under their belt, a rampaging India will look to continue their winning run against an inconsistent but dangerous West Indies in their fourth group league encounter of the ICC Cricket World Cup on Friday.
The Indian juggernaut has rolled with such speed that it has crushed arch-rivals Pakistan, a pretty solid South Africa and minnows UAE under its wheels while being firmly perched at the top and inching towards the pole position in the group B points table.
On the eve of the match, India would hope that the off-the-field controversy surrounding vice-captain and team’s batting mainstay Virat Kohli’s conduct doesn’t turn out to be a distraction in an otherwise smooth campaign so far.
The India versus West Indies clash has all the ingredients of a cracker but the Caribbeans have never really performed well against India since 1992 in Wellington, when they last won the contest at the global event.
On paper as well as on current form, West Indies are no match for India, who were near flawless in their three matches with thorough professional performances.
All the Indian top-order batsmen have contributed in some form or the other in the first three matches while the bowlers have silenced their critics with some solid show which makes them clear favourites against the young Jason Holder-led team.
Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan have struck form from the start of the tournament while Suresh Raina made useful contribution in the first match against Pakistan.
Rohit Sharma missed out in the first two games but against UAE, got a decent hit out there in the middle with a half-century. The performance of the specialist batsmen have in fact covered the grey area which is skipper Dhoni’s indifferent form.
Among the bowlers, off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin has been the best with eight wickets and a mean economy rate under present field restrictions.
Mohit Sharma has been the surprise package for India in the tournament while Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami and a half-fit Bhuvneshwar Kumar have come up with more decent performances.
There is a ‘Chris Gayle Factor’, which makes it an intriguing battle as the big Jamaican can change the complexion of a game in a matter of five overs.
One had witnessed the ‘Gayle Storm’ hit Canberra with poor Zimbabwean bowlers facing the brunt of his blazing blade as he raced to the first ever double century in the history of World Cup competition.
But then consistency has never been Gayle’s best friend and neither is his record against India in major matches been too great. A testimony to that are scores of 3 and 4 against South Africa and Pakistan on either side of the 215 versus Zimbabwe.
So Gayle does have a point to prove against India as it will not only assert his supremacy but also help West Indies inch closer towards smooth sailing into the knock-out rounds.
However, Gayle has had problems against some of the Indian bowlers and two names that immediately crop up are that of Bhuvneshwar and Ashwin.
The UP pacer’s fitness has been dodgy from the start of the Australian Summer but his ability to trouble Gayle and left-handers in general with deliveries that normally angle across, have been proved handy quite a few times.
With Mohammed Shami reporting fit, it will be a choice for skipper Dhoni as to who he picks in the playing XI. Whether preference is given to Bhuvi’s swing or Shami’s hit-the-deck ability on a hard WACA strip, will be known on Friday.
Another bowler, who has troubled Gayle is Ashwin with his carrom ball and the conventional off-breaks. The reason being Gayle is not known use his feet much.
While Gayle factor can’t be avoided, West Indies do have some capable players. Dwayne Smith has been an asset at the top of the order in that yellow CSK jersey in the IPL, but has often failed to replicate that form whenever he has donned the maroon jersey.
Similarly, Marlon Samuels’ erratic form has hurt the team more often than not.
More than batting, the problem for the Caribbean outfit has been their bowling attack which certainly lacks the balance. Their fifth bowler has been a headache and that’s where the value of Dwayne Bravo is time and again being understood.